I’m … straining … to … get … myself … worked … up … for … the … 2018 … Hawaii … governor’s … race.
Nope, just can’t do it.
With good reason. There’s a good chance that the 2018 Hawaii governor’s race will be blah and predictable, much like the usual elections here.
Sure, there will be a contested Democratic primary with two heavyweight politicians, including our current governor.
Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa is challenging Gov. David Ige, but voters may have a hard time discerning their differences.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Political junkies may be excited by this formidable challenge to a sitting governor, but it is not likely the voters will be.
In 2014 when David Ige came out of nowhere to beat incumbent Neil Abercrombie in a campaign that was more polarizing and dramatic than 2018 is likely to be, the voter turnout was only 41 percent, slightly lower than the previous primary.
The lucky 2018 Democratic primary winner will face a Republican who is … who is … Wait, it is impossible even to guess. Maybe the GOP will search for one on LinkedIn.
The eventual Republican nominee will talk of corruption, the rotten Democratic political machine, wasting taxpayer money, unaffordable housing and the need for change.
Then he or she will get roundly plastered in the general election with a voter turnout smaller than the number of shoppers at Best Buy on Black Friday.
The media will do its best to drum up excitement. Even that drumming follows a predictable cadence. First comes the big kahuna support issue. A recent Star Advertiser article asked three Democratic “elder statesmen,” former governors Ben Cayetano, John Waihee and George Ariyoshi, to give their opinions.
Talk about same old, same old. With an average age of about 80, this trio could have been groomsmen at Mick Jagger’s first wedding.
Nothing against the gravitas of these ex’s, but the belief that their opinions matter is based on the assumption that the election will follow its usual pattern.
Next steps typically are counting union endorsements and checking who is raising the most money.
The Unlikely Could Still Happen
This well-locked-in process is as much a part of Hawaii elections as sign waving. It’s a high probability that 2018 will be the same.
But maybe not.
It’s a low probability that things will be different, but remember what the 2016 presidential race taught us about probabilities: “High” is not the same as “definite.”
So let’s look at a couple of things that could make the 2018 governor’s race different. Each would make the race more partisan and noisy by stressing differences both within and between the two political parties.
Considering the alternatives, a quiet, boring, idea-bereft, low turnout election may not be such a bad thing.
Donald Trump had barely sent out his first victory tweet when the anti-Trump resistance began. This has taken many forms, but two things stand out.
First, much of the impetus and energy comes from those who had supported Bernie Sanders.
Second, much of the struggle between moderates and the Sanders supporters is about the direction of the Democratic Party.
What if the progressive groups take their fight to the gubernatorial race as a way of moving the state’s Democrats farther leftward?
For years there has been a tension between moderates and progressives among Hawaii’s Democratic stalwarts, but come election time, things settle down. The Democrats’ tent stays large enough to accommodate them all.
Hanabusa And Ige: What’s The Difference?
Both Hanabusa’s and Ige’s tool kits are tailor-made for this kind of ideological dampening down.
The two differ on the basis of … what? Competence? Administrative skills? I have no idea which one is more progressive because they don’t have to talk in such terms.
To help understand this, try to imagine a Republican candidate not discussing how conservative she is.
But if the more progressive elements of the Resistance raise these issues and try to get the candidates to take a leftward litmus test, this usual dampening dynamic could change, catalyzing a race to the left.
Nationally, strife within the Republican Party began not much after the Resistance started. Trumpists, America First Bannonite nationalists and hardcore traditional conservatives, all fighting for the soul of the party.
Not much in Hawaii though. The facile explanation is that Hawaii’s GOP is different. This state does not have those kinds of aggressive populist challengers.
In fact, though, it does. They shouted down Beth Fukumoto at the last state convention. The Hawaii Republican Assembly constantly criticizes the party’s leadership for being “Republicans in name only” — RINOs.
Also, there is a kind of active pro-Trump group, and it’s a pretty good bet that the majority of Republicans here voted for Trump. (Nationally the overwhelming majority of Republicans voted for him.)
What if some rough coalition of these people filled the Republican governor candidate vacuum by nominating one of their own?
In that case it would not be business as usual. The fight within the state’s party would mirror the national fight, and the Democratic candidates would have a harder time avoiding what they prefer to ignore.
It may be hard to think about the state’s GOP that way because the party has been neutered for so long and because the dominant sensibility here is that Hawaii is too civil and tolerant a place for that kind of stuff.
That’s a good segue into my final point. Considering the alternatives, a quiet, boring, idea-bereft, low turnout election may not be such a bad thing. And, as I said, it is a high probability thing.
But it is not the only thing, and in these fraught times who knows? Instead of dismissing the alternative out of hand, make your own probability prediction.
And remember: Hillary Clinton had a 75 percent probability of becoming president.
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Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.